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NFL Preseason Nothing More than a Con Game

August 19, 2018
NFL Preseason Nothing More than a Con Game

Philadelphia Eagles tackle Taylor Hart leaves the field with an injury during the second half of Thursday night's preseason game against the New England Patriots in Foxboro. ap photo Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Steve Buckley

Boston Herald

Isaiah Wynn’s shredded left Achilles is probably not a good jumping-off point to having a big-boy discussion about the ravages of NFL preseason games.

Then again, when is there not a good jumping-off point to having a big-boy discussion about the ravages of NFL preseason games?

Wynn, a 21-year-old offensive tackle out of the University of Georgia, was the Patriots’ first pick in the 2018 draft. It was one heck of a gift, this first round pick, as it arrived courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for receiver Brandin Cooks. Having landed the 23rd overall pick in the draft, the Pats, clearly thinking in terms of their short-term future, chose Wynn.

On the first day he arrived in Foxboro, the kid was handed an 8x10 glossy of Tom Brady and told the nature of his gig: Protect and serve New England’s iconic, Hall of Fame-bound quarterback, who, we keep being told by important national opinion shapers, will soon “fall off a cliff” and be finished for good. Except that there’s no sign of that happening.

Turns out it’s Wynn, the rookie, not Brady, the 41-year-old, who has fallen off the cliff. And now Pats coach Bill Belichick is pecking around amazon.com for quarterback protection, with one finger ready to pounce on “overnight delivery” as soon as he sees something he likes.

Wynn’s injury was not of the jarring, blood-curdling, turn-your-head-to-avoid-the-carnage variety. And it took place during the Patriots’ second preseason game, not the third, not the fourth. And even most people who are otherwise down on preseason football generally agree that a couple of tuneup tilts are necessary in order to get everyone ready for the heavy lifting of Week 1.

But it’s not just the length of the NFL’s preseason that should bother you; what should bother you is practice games masquerading as real games.

That’s pretty much what they are, right? To borrow from retired Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson, we’re talkin’ about practice, man. Practice.

And yet look how the NFL dresses up these practice games with so much makeup, powdered wigs and other frilly things. They stage these practice games -- or, if you will, fake games -- in the regular-season stadiums. They play them at night. Prime time!!! Tickets often are tied in with regular-season packages. And the NFL’s marketing whizzes have a way of adding a dose of drama by playing off recent history, such as selling Thursday night’s game as a make-pretend Super Bowl rematch.

Sad but true: Actual human beings were calling the talk shows during the run-up to Thursday’s fake game, yapping about how the Eagles were lucky that night in Minneapolis this past February, Philly fans are yahoos, Malcolm Butler, blah, blah, blah.

Memo to these actual human beings: Thursday night was not an actual game. It was not the fifth quarter of Super Bowl LII. It was not a rematch.

It was a practice game.

Baseball, too, overdoes its slate of practice games, with Grapefruit League and Cactus League campaigns that seem to go on forever. Players’ eyes are just about glazed-over by the third week of March, and the anxious horde of media types in attendance during that first zany week of “pitchers and catchers” has long since dwindled to a sagging front porch of beat writers who are by now as bored with the whole thing as the players are.

But baseball must by necessity play its fake games in warm-weather climes. While I miss the rickety old spring training parks, the good news is that the modern joints, while spacious and spiffy, don’t pretend to be big league venues. The PA announcer is usually some guy from the local radio station, with an earnest-sounding, hoping-to-make-it-to-a-big-market delivery, not a Voice of God type from The Big City. (Could you ever have imagined the late, great Bob Sheppard doing spring training games for the Yankees?)

But I don’t want to turn this into a George Carlin football vs. baseball routine. So let’s stick with the football. And football is dangerous, right? Rules changes and newfangled equipment might make it safer, but nothing will ever make it safe. Everyone understands this. Right?

Apparently not, because we keep supporting the annual four-week con game known as the NFL preseason.

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